Gunn on Politics

The young man walking towards me took a last gulp from a can. Then
he crushed it and lobbed it at a parked car, where it left a small
scratch before bouncing onto the road.

Yes, I know that I should have said or done something. But I did
not dare. Whatever the crime statistics say, around here we know
that any censure of such behaviour is likely to result in a violent
attack, often with a knife. So like most people I averted my

I do not feel proud of my behaviour. But faced with that pale, bony
face surrounded by “the hood” and the blank yet challenging
expression, I admitted defeat. Nothing I could have said, I told
myself, would have diverted him into more constructive activities.

Yet it is lads just like this who are currently the focus of a host
of policy wonks in all the main political parties. It is no longer
news that we have a serious problem among a certain percentage of
young boys.

They have been a key target in at least six of the last criminal
justice bills. Just mention this category of miscreant and people
will shake their heads in despair. I was appalled to see two police
officers stationed at a school being openly taunted by a group of
pupils. “Nothing we can do”, one said.

The alternatives seemed to be: to do nothing or devise ever harsher
penalties. Remember former home secretary Willie Whitelaw’s “short,
sharp shock” initiative? The current home secretary David Blunkett
cannot be accused of being short of initiatives. But, the latest
policies do not seem to do the trick.

So what about trying something radical? What about -Êfrom an
early age -Êtreating these boys as an important part of our
future, rather than as the problem?

Before I am accused of being the most dreadful of creatures
-Êa wishy-washy Liberal -Êplease understand that I am not
suggesting easy options. But initiatives that allow them to get
away from their environments, away from their peers, gives them a
glimpse of a world where they see real deprivation and need, might
just make that difference.

And there’s a world out there where our charities need basic,
practical support in helping the oppressed and dispossessed. If a
little of the imagination of the policy advisers was directed at
harnessing the energies of young people to help the needy in other
countries, maybe less attention would be needed in devising new
forms of deterrent.

Sheila Gunn is a political commentator and a Conservative
councillor in the London Borough of Camden.

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